Reviewed in the United States on December 1, 2020
For those who may be unfamiliar with the background, TPT has been a highly controversial Bible version for several years now, receiving both effusive endorsements and serious criticisms. On the one hand, Bethel’s Bill Johnson says TPT is “one of the greatest things to happen with Bible translation in my lifetime.” On the other, Andrew Shead, head of Old Testament and Hebrew at Moore Theological College and a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation, reviewed part of TPT and went so far in his scathing criticism as to warn, “By masquerading as a Bible it threatens to bind entire churches in thrall to a false god.”
In early 2020 Pastor Mike Winger of YouTube fame announced that he had enlisted the help of well-respected Bible scholars to evaluate individual books of TPT and he would be posting the written reviews on his site for free. He also promised to interview the scholars on his YouTube channel.
Winger has shared a few quotes to give us an idea of the scholars' impressions. Craig Blomberg said that TPT “should probably have a Surgeon General’s warning on it about its potential hazards.” Tremper Longman said that The Passion Translation suppresses the true meaning of the Song of Songs. Darrell Bock said, "it is NOT a translation" (emphasis his, not mine). Douglas Moo, in his review of the book of Romans in The Passion Translation wrote, "I find it has several problems that, together, mean it is an unreliable guide to the meaning of Scripture." Nijay Gupta reviewed Brian Simmons' translation of the book of Galatians and said "Is Brian Simmons Qualified to write an "official use" Bible translation? No-for a number of reasons".
Prior to this, Winger had published several videos documenting his research into TPT and citing his concerns. The website for TPT claims that the translation’s governing philosophy is to “transfer the essential meaning of God’s original message found in the biblical languages to modern English.” But Winger says TPT makes drastic changes to the meaning with no basis in the original text. Sometimes the footnote will cite the “original Aramaic” for support of a change when, in reality, no “original Aramaic” exists for that book. He believes TPT takes advantage of people’s ignorance of textual criticism. Though TPT claims to be a translation, Winger says so many words and phrases have been added or removed without justification that TPT no longer qualifies to even be called a paraphrase. He suggested that interpretive paraphrase may be more appropriate as he says the translator inserts his own personal commentary directly into the text.
In terms of scope, Winger says there are actually far more changes in TPT than in the New World Translation used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. An important distinction is that the deity of Christ is not being obscured in TPT. However, a different theological bias might be involved.
The sole translator of TPT is Brian Simmons who is currently one of the core faculty of Wagner University, started by the late C. Peter Wagner who launched the controversial New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Researchers of that movement have identified that TPT contains "completely reworded verses, making it appear that the Bible supports NAR teachings." (1) Notably, some of the other faculty of Wagner University have given glowing endorsements of TPT. Interestingly, in responding to a separate criticism of his work as lacking academic credibility, Simmons appeals to one scholar, Gary S. Greig, who also has ties to Wagner. An online search reveals that Wagner wrote the forward to a book published by Greig. Perhaps the real story here is that fans of Wagner’s theology appear to be fans of TPT and vice-versa.
Previously, Winger published some research that brought into question not only issues with the translation but also the qualifications of the translator himself. On the TPT website, there is no mention of Simmons’ education or experience in the biblical languages. But the website claims he translated “using the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic documents.” As qualification for Bible translation, he is described as a “linguist” who “co-translated the Paya-Kuna New Testament for the Paya-Kuna people of Panama.” Winger published a YouTube video on November 20, 2018, showing a statement he had obtained from New Tribes Mission (who Simmons claimed he was working for at the time) which stated, “Brian is not a linguist of any sort.” The statement also denied that Simmons was serving with New Tribes Mission during the time that the Paya-Kuna translation was being completed by them.
Winger says Simmons also seems to change his story depending on his audience. On the website for his translation, TPT is portrayed as an actual translation with the translator having knowledge and expertise in the biblical languages, but when interviewed on shows like Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural, Simmons has cited supernatural revelation as the translation method. In the Sid Roth interview, accessible on YouTube, Simmons can be seen claiming that Jesus appeared in his room, breathed on him, and commissioned him to write a new translation of the Bible. Simmons also said that Jesus promised to help him by giving him secrets of the Hebrew language and he claimed that he saw the Hebrew language through a method of divine revelation during his translation work. The lack of these additional details on the website could mislead people into believing that TPT was translated using normal translation methods.
The Public Showdown
In February of 2020, Pastor Winger was interviewed by Melissa Dougherty, who runs a YouTube channel on topics related to apologetics and discernment. In that video, Melissa concluded that the method of translation for TPT was channeling. She encouraged her viewers to “avoid it at all costs.” At the end of that video, Winger shared his bold conclusions: Brian Simmons was lying!
This led to a public Facebook challenge a few days later, when Winger invited Simmons to provide correction if his accusations were wrong. Asking his audience for help in making contact with Simmons, Winger claimed his previous attempts to reach Simmons had been unsuccessful. He promised to take down his videos if Simmons would contact him and provide proof of his qualifications for Bible translation. “On the other hand,” Winger said, “if I am understanding things correctly (as I’m currently convinced I am) then I’m coming after TPT with both guns blazing.”
Less than twelve hours later, Simmons made a comment on Winger’s post at February 25, 2020 at 4:04am, stating “Mike, I just learned today that you had reached out to me for a ‘respectful’ conversation about your concerns. You have some serious accusations and I’m willing to help bring another side to the story (Prov. 18:17)…Please message me for a private conversation.”
Winger replied, “Will do! Thanks!”
Winger then went silent on the topic for several weeks. Another person replied to Simmons, asking him to respond publicly on the matter, but was met with no response.
On March 13th, Winger published a public post, summarizing his concerns with TPT and providing links to all of his previously published videos on the topic and reiterating his same concerns, but he said nothing about his conversation with Simmons.
Someone commented, “Any further update from your interactions with Mr. Simmons?”
Winger replied: “I’ve committed to keeping the convo private. But if I feel anything I have said needs to be changed I will make that public.”
Winger again seemed to go silent on the topic for a little over a month. Then, on April 28th, he published the video announcing his Passion Project (described above), in which he has asked scholars to review and analyze TPT.
Winger later explained that he had discussed his concerns with Brian Simmons to make sure he was not in error in his conclusions. He was very open to being corrected and he promised to keep their conversation private, but he stands firm in his original conclusions.
1. Geivett, R. Douglas and Holly Pivec, God's Super Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement, Lexham Press, 2014, p.67